An estimated 2,000 tons of lead tire weights are lost from vehicles each year.
The weights fly off car and truck wheels and wind up in the environment, solid, or are ground into dust that makes its way into our respiratory tracts. Exposure to lead has been linked to a variety of health concerns including reproductive problems and nervous system disorders, so the Environmental Protection Agency is now pursuing a ban on the manufacture and distribution of lead tire weights.
While that initiative has yet to take shape, several states have already imposed bans on lead tire weights, fishing weights and other lead products. Those states include California, Minnesota, Washington, Vermont, Maine, New York, and most recently, Illinois. Maryland, Rhode Island, and Wisconsin have proposed similar legislation.
Zinc was considered as an alternative, but it's expensive and carries its own environmental baggage. Reports coming from Europe where lead bans have been in place for some time suggest steel weights are not a satisfactory alternative, either. Corrosion, we hear, causes the weights to separate from the wheel with alarming frequency - adding another maintenance item to an already long corrosion-related list.
Alternatives to lead weight are proving to be expensive. The increased cost of a lead substitute could be a factor in leveling the playing field between the lead-weight approach and the more costly dynamic balancing products, such as internal balancing compounds and external balancing rings - or it could knock wheel balancing off the radar screen altogether.